Do you like to be scared shitless? Do you like to be scared shitless by zombies?
If you answered yes to the above questions, chances are you'll at least get some kind of thrill out of Dead Island.
Dead Island started its undead life with one of the gaming world's most beautiful trailers--which, as eager gamers soon discovered, happened to have nothing at all to do with the game aside from the setting, causing mass internet outrage.
Death in reverse: the original trailer.
The slow-motion, backwards footage of a vacationing family dealing with a sudden zombie outbreak tapped directly into our collective fears. The game itself seemed a rather tepid foray into the hack-and-slash zombie survival genre.
Many diehard fans refused to even look at it. It's unfortunate, because the game is actually pretty enjoyable.
Sure, the multiplayer elements are familiar to players of Left 4 Dead, and the breakable, upgradable weapons are similar to just about every game out there. But Dead Island actually has an interesting outbreak story, lots of zombie action, a sandbox-style "open world" with multiple side-missions, and fun, over-the-top characters.
From left: Xian Mei, Sam B, Purna, Logan Carter (the first Spice Girls lineup)
You get to choose from 4 playable stereotypes... uh, characters. I chose Sam B, the foul-mouthed rapper, who also happens to be a blunt weapons specialist. For some reason if given the opportunity, I always play as the black guy. Maybe I'm hoping it'll help him survive past the first ten minutes, which as everyone knows is rare in horror. Anyway, when the outbreak starts, he's in the club drunkenly singing his chart-topping, mind-numbing hit "Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch?" which I've embedded at the end of this post for your listening displeasure. He wakes up hungover in his suite and has no idea what happened the night before, but screams are audible outside the door. The hallways are empty, luggage racks left everywhere with plenty of items and money inside. An apparent suicide from the top of the hotel is Sam B's first glimpse of trouble.
When the elevator crash lands in the basement, there are "infected" everywhere. A voice on the radio (Kiwi or Australian, I'm not sure which) tells him to follow instructions. The lighting is minimal and flickering, with plenty of smoke and whirring fan blade shadows--typical horror game ambiance. After you escape you end up with a bunch of other survivors, where you get your first taste of side-missions.
Like any survival game, you start out with whatever weapon you can find. I used an oar against the first hoard, bashing my way to multiple experience points and gaining "achievement levels." I found the XP gains and Hit Points lost floating above the heads of the zombies distracting. It's nice to know you're rising in the ranks and hacking down the life force of your enemies, but in a horror game I want to be absorbed in the action. I don't want numbers floating everywhere, ruining the illusion of reality. Minor gripe. As you can probably tell, I'm not a huge RPG fan.
The game manages to scare you in the daylight, which is something most games, even movies, rarely achieve or even try.
But where Dead Island really shines is its zombies. And there are a fuckload of zombies, to use Sam B's penchant for cursing (and mine, I suppose). The Infected are most prevalent, lurking around just about every corner. The Infected move incredibly fast, and Walkers shamble, as true zombies should. Thugs are larger, shirtless zombies, much stronger than the rest. And then there are the "Super Zombies," such as the exploding Suiciders (George W. would love that one), the Rams, behemoths in a straight-jacket, and the Butchers, genuinely terrifying creatures who look like MMA fighters and have arms that end with grisly bone-blades.
"Super Zombie" cutscenes (spoilers)